On Tuesday Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam told The Wall Street Journal that his company is looking beyond cell phones for “the next big wave of opportunities.” Verizon sees what Apple and AT&T have done with the iPad and has decided to partner with Google to launch a device of its own.
“We’re working on tablets together,” said McAdam. “We’re looking at all the things Google has in its archives that we could put on a tablet to make it a great experience.”
Google declined to comment on the joint project. A Google spokesman was particularly coy in telling Bloomberg, “Anyone can take the Android platform and add code or download it to create a mobile device without restrictions. We look forward to seeing what contributions are made and how an open platform spurs innovation.”
However, don’t forget that in October 2009 when the Google-powered Motorola Droid was unveiled on Verizon, a broader agreement between Google and Verizon was also announced. The stated purpose of the agreement: “To leverage [Verizon's] high-speed network and [Google's] open Android platform for wireless innovation.” Translation: Combine Verizon’s forthcoming 4G network with Android’s potential on devices larger than smartphones.
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McAdam did not say when a Verizon-Google tablet would arrive or offer any other specifics, but Verizon’s Vice President of Corporate Communications Marquett Smith told Bloomberg that Verizon would share more details later this week.
In the meantime, the biggest question is, “Who would build the Verizon-Google tablet?” If this were a horse race, it would come down to five runners, and here’s how I would handicap them:
Google’s number one hardware partner for Android has always been HTC, which built the first Android smartphone, the G1, and the Google-branded Nexus One. HTC doesn’t know anything about building tablets or computers, though, other than what it has learned in building touchscreen Android and Windows Mobile devices. There’s also the issue that this project sounds like it’s being driven by Verizon more than Google, so Verizon is likely to hand pick the OEM.
It’s easy to ignore the fact that HP has more experience building tablets than anyone, due to its long-suffering with Microsoft’s ill-fated Tablet PC debacle. Earlier this year HP even built a touch-based tablet for Microsoft, before pulling the plug on it because Windows 7 was reportedly too hard on battery life. Android would be a much lighter fit. Of course, there’s also the issue that HP just bought Palm and is rumored to be fitting webOS for wear on tablets. And, HP and Verizon are two very strong and experienced industry leaders. It’s tough to see them collaborating without butting heads.
One company that really wants to build tablets is ASUS. Its Eee Pad is expected to arrive this summer, with a version running Windows 7 and another version running Android. So, since the company is already developing an Android tablet and is an upstart OEM that wants to challenge Apple as a maker of cool hardware, it could be a good fit for a Verizon partnership. The problem is that the company has little experience dealing with the crazy world of telecom carriers.
Motorola might sound like a strange fit. Other than the Verizon Droid, the company has been floundering in the cellphone/smartphone market. However, the company is a longtime Verizon partner and has a long history of developing a variety of mobile devices. It has also bet its entire mobile division around building Android devices. The biggest drawback, of course, is that it has no experience with PCs.
Dell is warming up to enter the mobile game with Android and Windows Phone devices set to arrive later this year. With the company struggling in its consumer and enterprise PC businesses, it would love to open up a new market. Its expertise in low-cost laptops could certainly be an asset in building tablets, but battery life and product design (not a Dell strength) could be drawbacks. We also haven’t seen any of Dell’s mobile devices yet, to know if they’re any good. In all likelihood, it will take Dell a few product iterations before it’s ready to seriously compete in mobile.
Handicapping the race
The smart money has to be on HTC as the favorite. It has the most Android expertise and a lot of experience building hardware at the behest of a strong partner. HTC already has experience working with Verizon on the Droid Eris and other devices as well.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Motorola emerge as the winner, due to its experience in mobile devices and its solid relationship with Verizon. The dark-horse to keep an eye on is ASUS, which builds solid hardware, already has an Android tablet in the works, and is aggressively trying to enter new markets, just like Verizon and Google.
Also, McAdam said that Verizon was working on “tablets” (plural) with Google, so it’s likely that we’ll eventually see multiple form factors and OEMs involved.